West Valley City’s ‘My Hometown’ Initiative Focuses on Neighbors Helping Neighbors

This story is part of the Salt Lake Tribune’s ongoing commitment to identifying solutions to Utah’s biggest challenges through the work of the Innovation Lab.

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Rain or shine, you’ll see West Valley City resident David Nuckolls get his hands dirty on a Saturday morning on a My Hometown day of service. This is Nuckoll’s way of giving back to the community after they relieved him of a constant headache: a tree too big to wrap your arms.

“The tree roots were growing and it was tearing my house apart,” Nuckolls said, putting his hands on a shovel during a light drizzle. “It meant pulling out that tree rather than fighting that tree for the rest of my life.”

In order to preserve his house, Nuckolls knew the tree had to go, but he didn’t have the roughly $ 20,000 it would take to tackle the tree and fix his driveway.

That’s when My Hometown stepped in to help Nuckolls remove it so the tree would no longer uproot its life or empty its pockets. Nuckolls watched volunteers clad in neon vests tear the tree off his property, with concern. It was part of a My Hometown Day of Service, where community members dedicate a Saturday to improving a neighbor’s home.

(Saige Miller | The Salt Lake Tribune) A group of My Hometown volunteers help remove a tree from a West Valley City owner’s property during a day of service on Saturday, October 9, 2021.

Volunteers helped Nuckolls save a large chunk of manpower, enabling him to fix the looming problem for less than $ 4,000.

“I’m so grateful that these volunteers just showed up,” Nuckolls said. “I finished the project for nickels on a dollar.”

So now, whenever there is a day of service in the community, “I’m here,” Nuckolls said, “I’m paying it next.”

Consider my hometown

Nuckolls is just one of the many lives my hometown has had since its inception. It started two years ago as a pilot program when a group of West Valley residents approached city council. His logging project exemplifies what My Hometown seeks to do: unite the diverse West Valley community through people-to-people relationships and maintain the homes’ long-term quality of life.

“We want to have neighborhoods that feel together and neighbors who know and support each other in the way they need to be supported,” said Nicole Cottle, deputy city manager of West Valley City.

The community set My Hometown in motion by combining the resources of the city, residents, religions and businesses.

To focus on individual visions, My Hometown established Neighborhood Captains, where residents living in a pilot neighborhood build relationships with locals in their area to continue cultivating a vibrant and welcoming community.

Among those bouldering captains is Bonnie Shaw, an energetic 71-year-old woman who walked through various service projects this rainy Saturday with her powerful clipboard and My Hometown badge.

“It makes me a super woman,” Shaw said, lifting her lanyard with a broad smile. “When I put this on I can talk and help anyone.”

(Saige Miller | The Salt Lake Tribune) Bonnie Shaw, my hometown block captain and longtime West Valley City resident, attends the “Feel Like A Super Woman” Day of Service Saturday, Oct. 9.

As Warden, Shaw oversees 100 homes in the Stansbury neighborhood of West Valley, where she has lived since 1976.

“People are starting to see the beautification of the area,” Shaw said. “Just make your corner of the universe and yours will get better and your neighbor will see it, and it’s contagious.”

She heard about My hometown through The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, where Shaw and her husband serve a full-time service mission. The West Valley LDS community has been heavily involved in My Hometown from the start, although the Church does not have control of the program – residents do.

My hometown wanted to expand its efforts beyond service projects, but their planning quickly hit a roadblock: the COVID-19 pandemic.

Due to public safety concerns, days of service were limited to outdoor projects, community gathering events were suspended, and community building became difficult.

However, for Cottle, the pandemic provided the city with a unique opportunity to hear from community members, especially during a vulnerable time when the number of cases was high.

“The pandemic has turned out to be a great educator for us,” said Cottle, “we learned what our residents wanted and really needed. “

For example, Cottle says the city discovered that children in pilot areas wanted to learn Spanish so that they could speak with their grandparents. Other children wanted to take the piano.

The town called for volunteers, and community members quickly rallied to give piano and Spanish lessons once a week at a local LDS chapel.

Without the pandemic, “the city would not have known that there were 35 children in this neighborhood who wanted to learn the piano,” Cottle said.

Prioritize neighbors

West Valley City Council member Don Christensen has been supporting My Hometown since a group of locals pitched the concept at a council meeting. He describes the initiative as “a model for building our own neighborhoods”, and neighbors helping neighbors “is everyone’s greatest benefit”.

Shaw totally agrees.

“My hometown is the most amazing thing to ever happen,” Shaw said. It gave her the chance to do something she always wanted to do: know every neighbor in her area of ​​100 by their first name.

Being a block captain gave Shaw the confidence to speak with her neighbors, including Elsie Herrera, who has since become a dear friend.

“I think the most important thing we do as block captains is to develop relationships,” Shaw said.

As with Shaw, the project inspired the city’s teens to foster friendships and strengthen community interactions. This prompted them to start the My Hometown Youth Council.

“We’re trying to bring the young people together and talk about our community’s vision,” said Daniel Rupp, 17, a member of the My Hometown youth council, “because we’re going to be the leaders in 10 years.”

The Youth Council has already made progress in bringing together the diverse backgrounds of West Valley.

“We added a partnership with the Muslim mosque and their young leaders to create a little basketball program,” Rupp said. A football league is also in preparation.

In addition, the youth council is hosting a Thanksgiving dinner, which they call “Friendsgiving,” next month to bring together all the cultural and ethnic groups in the area for a meal.

“Anyone can bring food from their culture and share it at the community resource center,” Rupp said.

Jeff and Anna Boese, who are also bouldering captains, moved to West Valley City about a year and a half ago. They bought a house in a quaint cul-de-sac and slowly upgraded their new home. My hometown was instrumental in making Utah feel like a sanctuary for the Boeses, whether it was helping to set up their garden or meeting the eight other families in their area.

“My hometown has really helped our neighborhood get to know each other well, especially in our cul-de-sac,” said Jeff Boese. “It’s a really cool way to take care of other people and for me to just get to know my neighbors.”

Not only did the camaraderie built into My Hometown inspired the Boese to build a porch so they could create a space to share with their neighbors, but Jeff says the program makes them feel noticed by city leaders as well.

“It really allows the city to keep an eye on what’s going on in the community and what we need on a very individual level,” Jeff said. “I think it lets our politicians here in town know what the community needs. “

A community ripple effect

At the start of the pilot in 2019, My Hometown refined its efforts in an area of ​​West Valley that covered 1,000 homes, had an elementary school nearby, as well as 30 churches nearby.

Since then, its footprint has spread to four other West Valley neighborhoods.

“People are starting to see the beautification of the area, and that’s all it takes,” Shaw said. “Just make your corner of the universe. Your neighbor will see, and it’s contagious.

The initiative was so successful that Utahns from other cities attended a day of service or contacted West Valley City to take notes on what they built.

“My hometown is now expanding to Ogden, Salt Lake, a larger area of ​​Granger, other West Valley towns and Provo,” Shaw said.

West Valley City says surrounding towns frequently email them, asking for advice on how to start something similar.

However, you won’t hear the city taking credit for the initiative.

“We brought the spark, and that’s it,” said Nicole Cottle, assistant manager of West Valley City. “Residents have always been the fuel. “

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